My experience with tonsil removal surgery and natural methods of managing the dangerous sleeping disorder, sleep apnea.
I’ve always been a snorer, everyone loved to let me know.
As a child, friends and even family would make fun of me for the loud and ugly noises that I made when I slept.
Sleep apnea is different though. Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts, causing a disruption in sleep and energy regeneration. Not just loud snoring, but lots of choking and desperate breathing as well (its not so fun).
At the age of 20, I also experienced severe swelling of the tonsils, which further impeded breathing. Eventually I checked myself into a sleep study clinic and underwent an overnight Diagnostic Polysomnography, used to diagnose sleep disorders.
The results? Moderate obstructive sleep apnea, with severe OSA when supine (sleeping), normal respiration when lateral (sleeping) and snoring in all sleep-positions, as seen in the report below.
My doctor prescribed ways of managing the newly diagnosed condition, which largely revolved around exercise programs, dietary recommendations and makeshift sleeping apparatuses (in efforts to avoid the CPAP machine and any sort of therapy).
We also agreed that my tonsils needed to be removed, so I took out a health insurance policy and began the mandatory 12 month waiting period, which had to pass before I was eligible to claim on procedures for preexisting medical conditions.
With a minimum 12 months before the tonsil removal surgery, I began experimenting with different sleeping positions, along with some healthier lifestyle choices, but breathing remained difficult and my sleep disrupted. After a few months and no positive results, I gave up on the experiments and just got into the habit of always sleeping on my side, as at least this minimised the snoring.
After the waiting period had passed on the health insurance policy, I met with a local ear nose and throat surgeon, who agreed to operate and remove my enormous tonsils.
The surgeon said he would not normally agree to such a procedure with someone of my age (I was 24), but the sheer size of my tonsils and their refusal to deflate gave him no choice, so I was finally going under the knife (well, the laser in this instance).
I won’t go into the tonsil removal procedure itself, but it took place on a Friday morning and I woke up later that afternoon feeling far better than expected. Drowsy, but otherwise fine. I ate, I slept, then I woke up on Saturday morning and went home. I was at a friends birthday party by Saturday evening.
Not only was the surgery and recovery completely painless, afterwards I was no longer a snorer. My breathing instantly improved and I began to feel a higher quality of health and wellbeing.
While many aspects of my life improved after the procedure, the battle with sleep apnea is not over, as I struggle to breathe through my nose while sleeping (broken nose too many times? Do I need more surgery?). Now, finding myself a long way from home, without access to health insurance, surgery is not an option.
Not to worry though, here are some proven and natural techniques that have helped me achieve a higher quality of sleep while overcoming sleep apnea.
Find your ideal sleeping position
- Move around to find the position that allows you the most effortless breathing
- Make sure you have a pillow which is suitable for whichever position you adopt
- Avoid sleeping on your back
Train yourself to breathe only through your nose
For patients with obstructive sleep apnea, especially those using positive airway pressure devices, nasal breathing is crucial. It may not always be as easy as it sounds, but there are techniques which can help, such as
- Using a mouthguard when you sleep
- Ordering sleep apnea nose plugs online
- Consciously focus on breathing through your nose and correct yourself every time you fall back into breathing from your mouth
Maintain a healthy weight range
- Avoid refined sugars
- Ensure you are consuming enough essential nutrients
- Get physical – tips
- Dedicate time for sleeping – why?
- In addition to conferring systemic clinical benefits, regular, predominantly aerobic, exercise results in reduced OSA severity, reduced daytime sleepiness, increased sleep efficiency, and increased VO2 peak, independently of weight loss – tips
Reduce consumption of alcohol
- Alcohol is a depressant that can make your muscles relax and overly relaxed airways can collapse during sleep, increasing the risk of apnea events
- Reduce consumption of alcohol, especially before sleeping, for improved sleep quality
- Smokers are more likely to be affected by obstructive sleep apnea, so ditch the death sticks if you are trying to achieve better quality sleep
Use a nasal decongestant or allergy medications
- Some nasal decongestants and allergy medications are known to improve sleep quality, AHI, and oxygen saturation level during sleep
Avoid taking sedatives such as sleeping pills or anti anxiety medications
- All forms anxiolytics and sleep inducing medications are known to worsen cases of obstructive sleep apnea, read more here.
- Meditation is proven more effective at reducing apnea symptoms than evening sleep hygiene routines, while also alleviating daytime symptoms of sleep apnea, including depression that results from chronic fatigue
- CPAP users who meditate report feeling more comfortable with their devices, and sleep more soundly as a result
- Meditation can be as simple as listening to the sound of nature
Drink herbal teas
- Chemicals found in green tea may be able to stave off the cognitive deficits that occur with obstructive sleep apnea, according to a new study in the Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
- A mild cardiovascular and stretching regimen can do wonders for your sleep apnea
- Yoga has also been proven to be beneficial to alleviate symptoms of sleep apnea
- Performing oropharyngeal exercises can help tone and strengthen the muscles that are directly involved in keeping your airway open
While there are a number of surgical procedures and assistive apparatuses available to facilitate better sleep, the above list has been a huge help in my battle with sleep apnea.
If you have any other suggestions for managing sleep apnea, let us hear your thoughts below.
About the Author: Harrison has more than a decade of experience on, and off, the rugby field as a representative player, junior coach and part-time referee. His passion for rugby led him to the Australian Institute of Personal Trainers where he studied the human body, exercise and nutrition, before being registered as a health and fitness professional with Fitness Australia and Fitness First Australia. Although the career path has changed, his passion for health, fitness, and Rugby will always remain.